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Thu, May 16, 2019

House Aviation Subcommittee Opens 737 MAX Investigation

Hears From FAA, NTSB Concerning Certification, Safety

The House Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday that subcommittee chair Rick Larsen (D-WA) characterized as the beginning of its investigation into two accidents involving Boeing's 737 MAX airplanes.

In his opening statement, Larsen (pictured) said he and the committee members understand that certain information about the accidents cannot be publicly discussed at this point because the investigations are ongoing. "However, there is still important information that this Subcommittee can learn in today’s hearing.

"For instance, Mr. Elwell, I look forward to hearing more about the FAA’s decision-making regarding the certification of the 737 MAX. I want you to clarify the ODA process, as well as the agency’s role in determining risk assessments assigned to key safety features on the aircraft, most notably, the Angle of Attack (AOA) sensors and Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), and whether these features should have been designated as safety critical.

"I also want to hear more about the FAA’s role in the development of associated pilot training for the 737 MAX, including opportunities for input from pilots and engagement with Boeing on the related flight manuals.

"Finally, I would like to hear what steps the FAA will take between now and when the Boeing 737 MAX is permitted to fly again. Administrator Elwell, the FAA has a credibility problem. The FAA needs to fix its credibility problem. Congress must find answers to what happened surrounding these two accidents and ensure the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX for the sake of the flying public. The FAA must take steps to restore public confidence in the ability to maintain the safest aerospace system in the world."

In his opening statement, Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell said the FAA certifies the design of aircraft and components that are used in civil aviation operations. "Some version of our certification process has been in place and served us well for over 60 years. This does not mean the process has remained static. To the contrary, since 1964, the regulations covering certification processes have been under constant review. As a result, the general regulations have been modified over 90 times, and the rules applicable to large transport aircraft, like the Boeing 737 MAX, have been amended over 130 times," Elwell (pictured) said.

"What has not changed is that, for any new project, the FAA identifies all safety standards and makes all key decisions regarding certification of the aircraft. The FAA focuses its efforts on areas that present the highest risk within the system. The FAA reviews the applicant’s design descriptions and project plans, determines where FAA involvement will derive the most safety benefit, and coordinates its intentions with the applicant, he continued.

"When a particular decision or event is critical to the safety of the product or to the determination of compliance, the FAA is involved either directly or through the use of our designee system. The use of designation, in some form, has been a vital part of our safety system since the 1920s. Congress has continually expanded the designee program since the creation of the FAA in 1958, and it is critical to the success and effectiveness of the certification process.

"Under this program, the FAA may delegate a matter related to aircraft certification to a qualified private person. This is not self-certification; the FAA retains strict oversight authority. The program allows the FAA to leverage its resources and technical expertise while holding the applicant accountable for compliance. During the past few years, Congress has endorsed FAA’s delegation authority, including in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which directed the FAA to delegate more certification tasks to the designees we oversee," Elwell said.

Elwell went into details concerning the agency's decision to ground the 737 MAX, and said that on May 23, 2019, the agency would be hosting a meeting of Directors General of civil aviation authorities from around the world to discuss the FAA’s activities toward ensuring the safe return of the 737 MAX to service.

"This meeting is part of the FAA’s efforts to work with other civil aviation authorities to address specific concerns related to the 737 MAX, in keeping with the FAA’s longstanding cooperation with its international partners.

"The FAA is resolute in its commitment to maintaining that standard. In our quest for continuous safety improvement, the FAA welcomes external review of our systems, processes, and recommendations. And the 737 MAX will return to service for U.S. carriers and in U.S. airspace only when the FAA’s analysis of the facts and technical data indicate that it is safe to do so," Elwell said.

(Source: House Transportation Committee website. Images from hearing video and from file)

FMI: Full Elwell Statement


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